One of the first things I ever wrote on this blog was about the common comparison between RahXephon and Evangelion.
In a nutshell, people will often go with a simple straight-line comparison between the characters in the two shows. They’ll say Haruka is Misato, Quon is Rei, Megumi is Asuka, Itsuki is Kaji, and sometimes they’ll take it a step further and say Kunigi is Gendo.
The claim is that RahXephon is just a beat-for-beat ripoff of Eva, and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.
At the time, I tried to argue that the characters are similar enough for the comparisons to be made and different enough that they should be viewed as separate characters. My point was that RahXephon was a response to Eva rather than a copy of it.
Now, 11 years later, I’m not sure where I stand by that opinion. I do think RahXephon is a response to Evangelion, but I don’t think comparing characters is useful though.
I can hear people asking, “Why don’t they work? I mean Haruka looks like Misato. They’re both in a command position. They’re both defined by the things that happened to them when they were young.”
Well, why don’t we start there?
Vagueness and generalization
Yes. You can compare Haruka and Misato, and come up with some similarities, but you have to engage in some mental gymnastics to get there.
Haruka is a character defined by a love that she lost after Ayato disappeared into Tokyo Jupiter. While she considers the Mu mankind’s enemy, she’s not driven by hatred for what they did. In fact, she is the only character who has a watch that tells the time inside and outside Tokyo Jupiter, which implies that she sees them as people.
If it wasn’t for her desire to see Ayato again, I don’t think she would have joined Terra at all. Since she has joined, we see that she is driven to find answers. Nearly every time we see her, she is working. When we see her relax, she is generally reserved.
On the other hand, Misato, like most of the characters in Evangelion, is defined by her relationship with one of her parents. She is angry at her father for never being there but also conflicted because he saved her. She joined NERV completely independently of any of the other characters so she could strike back at the Angels.
She compensates for her sadness and confusion by putting on a show of being happy and carefree. Her haphazard lifestyle seems to be more of a defense mechanism than her true personality.
How are these the same characters? Well, through clever editing and some useful hand waving. I mean they are both characters shaped by childhood trauma. They both joined the military because of a disaster. Even if all of the other pegs don’t line up, it’s easy to line those up.
If you apply some vagueness and overgeneralization, you can make any two characters line up as long as they’re somewhat similar.
Even in the comparisons that hold the most water, like Megumi and Asuka, there are simply too many differences for them to be the same characters.
Asuka is defined by wanting acceptance from her mother. When she can’t get it, she turns to other adults to find it. She obsesses over Kaji because she believes if a “man” loves her then it will somehow plaster over the darkness inside her. She is passive-aggressive toward the other pilots because she wants to be the one who is praised.
When she loses her ability to win that praise, she loses her mind.
Megumi, on the other hand, is a character defined by having a much more capable sister. Her struggle is to find her own identity among the other people in Terra. She does want acceptance from the adults surrounding her, but getting it is not a condition for maintaining her sanity.
Yes, the directors and writers use the gag of Megumi and Ayato “going on a date” for comic relief, but there is never any subtext that they are actually dating.
The other problems
There is are a couple additional problems that I see in these kinds of comparisons. The first is that people never really compare characters that they probably should.
When I was watching Eva again, I noticed that Toji is the truth-teller in the show. If you want to know what you’re supposed to think about a character, listen to what Toji says about them.
One of the most humorous times is when he says that Evangelion pilots are all crazy. He also points out that Rei has a thing for Shinji. He also calls Asuka and Shinji “the newlyweds.”
Like I said if you want to know what to think about a character, listen to Toji.
RahXephon has one of those characters too. His name is Johji Futagami. He’s the character with the most insight into all of the other people in the show.
But no one makes that comparison. Because they don’t resemble each other on a surface level, even if they serve the same function in the show.
Then there is just the sheer size of the cast. Evangelion has four main characters and maybe another four major characters. (In case you’re wondering, here’s how I count them. Main: Shinji, Rei, Asuka and Misato. Major: Gendo, Ritsuko, Toji and Aida.)
In RahXephon, the cast is so much larger, and I’m not even sure where I would draw the line between main and major characters. Megumi plays a fairly large role at the beginning of the show, but it generally fades off toward the middle and end of it. Torigai plays a large role in the very start and very end of the show, but he’s absent from the middle.
It’s closer to being an ensemble cast, where everyone plays a role, but they simply aren’t as large. It means to make these straight-line comparisons you need to ignore large sections of the RahXephon’s cast.
Why is this an issue?
All of this begs the question, “If it’s not important, then why talk about it?”
Really it comes down to two reasons. This kind of overly simplified way of looking at RahXephon ends up hurting it. When I started working on this series of posts, I looked for analysis pieces of the characters. I like seeing what other people think before I start into a show.
I didn’t find any.
There are a lot of interesting things you could say about this show, but no one does because they’ve already written it off. Even its supporters describe it as a “better version of Evangelion.” This simply isn’t fair to either show, but Eva is not the one that suffers for it.
The second reason is that it ends up replacing real conversations about the similarities between the two shows. RahXephon rejects Evangelion’s morbid vision of human relationships, but it doesn’t do it in a saccharine way. We could have a real discussion about what vision is more realistic, or which one is better.
That’s the conversation I want to have, and until we reject these straight-line comparisons, we never will.
What do you think? Do you think these comparisons hold up or do you find them overly simplistic? What comparisons would you make?
As always, thanks for reading.